It is the only spacecraft that was manned and still roams through space

In search of Snoopy, the lunar module of the Apollo 10 mission that was lost in space

NASA's Apollo 11 mission has gone down in the history books for being the first to take a man to the surface of the Moon.

The mystery of the space 'fireflies' that John Glenn saw from his spacecraft in 1962
The furthest car park: the three wheeled vehicles that were abandoned on the Moon

That mission took place from July 16 to 24, 1969. It was on July 20 when Neil Armstrong made his historic step on the Moon. Two months earlier, on May 18, 1969, NASA launched the Apollo 10 mission, the fourth manned mission of the Apollo program and the second to orbit the Moon. It was during this mission that the first landing test was carried out on the lunar surface.

The launch of Apollo 10 (Photo: NASA).

The spacecraft used in the Apollo 10 mission consisted of two parts: a Command and Service Module, CSM-106, with radio callsign "Charlie Brown" (the famous Peanuts character) and built by the North American Rockwell company, and the LM-4 Lunar Module, with the callsign "Snoopy", manufactured by the aeronautical company Grumman.

The command module, below, with the lunar module, above (Photo: NASA).

This mission was crewed by astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, John W. Young and Eugene A. Cernan. During the 61 hours and 37 minutes they spent orbiting the Moon, they photographed the Sea of Tranquility, the planned landing site of Apollo 11, and obtained a speed record: 39,897 km/h, making Apollo 10 the fastest manned object in history.

The Apollo 10 command module (Photo: NASA).

During this flight, Stafford and Cernan entered the Snoopy lunar module and took it to a height of only 15 km above the surface of the Moon. On this separate flight, Snoopy's descent stage, which included an engine and legs to land on the Moon, was separated. That stage crashed into the lunar surface, while the ascent stage, occupied by Stafford and Cernan, reconnected with the command module. Snoopy's ascent stage docked with the command module eight hours after disconnecting from it.

The Snoopy lunar module, still with its descent stage docked (Photo: NASA).

After docking, Stafford and Cernan went to the command module and sealed Snoopy, and then an operation was carried out that would make this lunar module a unique case in the Apollo program: Snoopy was launched beyond the Moonsomething that was not done with any of the other lunar modules. Snoopy burned his remaining fuel for a few minutes, moving away from the command module while the astronauts followed the ignition of his engine from afar. They were the last human beings to see the LM-4 Snoopy. You can see the video of the separation of both modules here:

After that separation, NASA lost track of Snoopy. The plan was to send the module into a heliocentric orbit, which would keep it circling the sun, but it seems that the propulsion applied to Snoopy was not ideal to achieve this. The whereabouts of that lunar module became a mystery for decades. In 2011, Nick Howes, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of the United Kingdom, began a search for LM-4 Snoopy. Finally, in June 2019, 50 years after Snoopy disappeared, Howes announced his possible discovery, noting that he is 98% sure that the lost lunar module could be the 2018 object AV2, identified until then as an asteroid.

The ascent stage of the Snoopy lunar module, after its separation from the command module. It was one of the last images that were captured of this ship (Photo: NASA).

By then, and if it really is that object, Snoopy would already be 55.8 million kilometers from Earth. Howes calculated that Snoopy's next approach to Earth will take place on July 10, 2037, when he will pass 4 million miles from our plane, a distance equivalent to 16 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Be that as it may, Snoopy is today the only spaceship that was manned and that continues in space, now empty.

Don't miss the news and content that interest you. Receive the free daily newsletter in your email:

Opina sobre esta entrada:

Debes iniciar sesión para comentar. Pulsa aquí para iniciar sesión. Si aún no te has registrado, pulsa aquí para registrarte.